2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Kenny Osakwe, Wharton School

Kenny Osakwe

The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

“A hardworking go-getter with a big personality interested in making a difference.”

Hometown: Marietta, GA

Fun fact about yourself: I have watched every episode of Law and Order SVU, twice.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Duke University, Bachelor of Arts in Sociology

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Bowstring Advisors, Investment Banking Associate

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? TA Realty – Boston, MA

Where will you be working after graduation? Cerberus Capital Management, Real Estate Private Equity Associate

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Co-Vice President for Wharton African American MBA Association, Co-Vice President for Wharton Real Estate Club, Student Life Fellow, Committee Co-Chair for Wharton Alumni Fellows, Penn First Generation/Low Income Society

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of being a Vice President for the Wharton African American MBA Association (AAMBAA) focused on sponsorships and partnerships. AAMBAA is driven to create a business playbook for the African American community who may not have the same access and resources as other MBA students. As the VP of Sponsorships, I had the honor of being the face of Wharton African American students who want to work in private equity, banking, or consulting (to name a few). As a historically marginalized community, sponsorships allow us to bring in employers and show them the power of the AAMBAA student body. It was especially rewarding to raise over $100,000 for the club – the largest amount of corporate sponsorship to date – which will make a real impact on me and my peers as we look for internships and full-time opportunities around the world.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My most proud professional moment to date was after my transition from associate to analyst at Bowstring Advisors, a boutique M&A advisory firm. I started my career off in fixed income sales and trading, focused on executing the details of different financial derivative transactions. However, I was always interested in working with founders, CEOs, and executive teams to look at the bigger picture and help grow their companies. In my promotion, I took a leadership role in deal execution. My first deal was with a healthcare services company led by a female CEO. It was her first time going through an M&A transaction and it was my responsibility to work day in and day out with her and her team to explain the process and advise her on what would be best for her company in a transaction. Over our six months working together, it was incredibly rewarding to see the founder move from a more operational perspective to creating a strong 5-year growth plan. When we reached our goal and the company was acquired by a healthcare PE firm, we were both so excited. The experience reiterated the real impact I can make in working with owner-operators to unlock both their personal and business potential and to find the best path forward to help their companies continue to grow.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor is my Statistics professor – Dr. Emil Pitkin. Professor Pitkin is an engaging professor who has the unique ability to distill complex statistical theories into something digestible across MBAs. Making statistics fun is a hard feat to do, but in his class he did it. He always challenged us to ask questions, to be thoughtful, and always know the odds – a good lesson to apply to any career after Wharton.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? One of my favorite traditions at Wharton is the annual ski trip hosted by the Wharton Ski and Snowboard Club. As an inner-city kid who grew up in Atlanta, I had never been to a ski mountain until my first year in business school. However, my classmates, some of whom are avid skiers, were very supportive and encouraging of me to try something new and lean into this “stretch experience”.

Business school, in particular Wharton, provides a myriad of experiences for us as students to stretch ourselves, both physically and intellectually. The Wharton ski trip reflects this mantra of learning to be comfortable with discomfort. I was very nervous my first time skiing. After several lessons and an abundance of support from my friends, I can say now that I am a decent skier. While I may never be able to ski a black diamond, I have learned to not run from situations that scare me, but rather to lean into the excitement of something new: be it professional or personal.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Wharton because of the school’s rigorous finance curriculum, world-renowned real estate program, and emphasis on growing and developing global business leaders. I enrolled in Wharton to make the transition from middle-market investment banking to real estate private equity. Through various mentorship programs, coursework, and workshops, I have been able to tap into Wharton’s world-class network of real estate professionals. Additionally, Wharton has provided numerous opportunities for personal growth and learning. Whether it was taking a class on negotiations or an immersive six-week program discussing identity, Wharton has provided me with the framework and space to shape my goals and values as a future business leader and good world citizen.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? The one piece of advice I would give is to make sure you have a clear understanding of why you want to obtain an MBA. The MBA experience provides numerous opportunities for development both professionally and personally. Having a clear set of goals as to what you are looking to gain from the MBA experience will be beneficial in navigating Wharton’s large range of opportunities in and out of the classroom.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Looking back at my MBA experience, the one thing I would do differently is to integrate myself more within the overall Penn community and to get out of the “Wharton bubble.” Because there are so many academic and personal opportunities at Wharton, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of everything else happening within the Penn community.

An example of this is the lineup of speakers and events that happen at Penn Law and within the School of Social Policy and Practice. Law and policy have a direct impact on real estate – my future profession – since it is a hyper-localized industry. Changes in policy, current events or laws can have a real impact in how real estate transactions get done. If I could do this experience all over again, I would go to more events and take classes that dived deeper into these areas and to open myself up to more topics and learnings outside of my professional and academic ambitions. In an attempt to learn as much as I can before I leave campus, in my last semester, I am taking a Penn Law class on contracts and negotiations.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The one MBA classmate I admire the most is Anush Vinod. Anush and I are both Atlanta natives and worked in financial services prior to Wharton. He and I met during Welcome Weekend in Spring 2018 and struck up an amazing friendship. Anush is the most thoughtful, caring, and dedicated classmate I have ever interacted with. He truly has a passion for being his best self every day and he inspires and motivates me to do the same. Anush is the type of friend you can call on your best or worst day and I am forever grateful for our friendship.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My parents have definitely been the biggest influence on my life, especially in my decision to pursue business in college. As the son of immigrant parents, I am very aware of the sacrifices my parents made in uprooting our family from Nigeria and immigrating to the United States when I was six years old. My parents are my biggest motivation to work hard every day. I realize how blessed I am to have had the opportunity to come to the U.S. and my parents are a constant reminder of the power of opportunity. In 1996, my family won the diversity visa lottery (only 1% of applicants win this lottery) that granted us a green card to move to the states. I consider myself to be very lucky, not only did I win the diversity visa lottery, I also won the parent lottery in having such loving parents who have always supported me in my endeavors.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? The top two items on my professional bucket list is to become a partner at a top-tier real estate private equity firm in NYC and to launch an investment division within a global firm that solely focuses on affordable housing in Nigeria. As a Nigerian American, I have seen two worlds in which housing is the lynchpin for health and financial wellness. Proper housing and infrastructure is a basic need for all citizens – no matter where you live in the world. While I was very lucky to be able to leave Nigeria, being able to go back home to create a better environment for my community and to make a real impact helping Nigerians live more secure and healthier lives would be a dream come true.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you?

I want to be remembered as an energetic and compassionate individual with a thirst for helping others – especially those in marginalized communities around the world.

Hobbies? Flywheel (spin class), listening to 90s R&B music and podcasts, going to local art museums, and (of course), watching college basketball (Go Duke!).

What made Kenny such an invaluable member of the Class of 2020?

“I am enthusiastically writing in support of Kenechukwe (Kenny) Osakwe to be featured in the Poets & Quants, Best and Brightest MBAs. He truly represents the best part of what it means to be a Wharton MBA.

I have most worked with Kenny in his role as a Student Life Fellow (SLF), which is a role focused on engaging, supporting, and connecting 1s year MBAs. He has the unique ability to emphasize, establish rapport, and reach a broad range of students from diverse backgrounds. He has made every interaction purposeful and engaging. Kenny and I debated some weeks ago on the topic of engagement. He is dedicated to meeting and supporting all 18 first years assigned to him individually for community support. His philosophy is rooted in making a very large class feel small. It is widely known that in a Wharton MBA’s first few months, our class size can be overwhelming. Through this, Kenny has developed a following of students (across extremely diverse backgrounds) that are intentional in seeking him out for support. I have rarely seen a student peer that cultivates these types of relationships in my many years of working in higher education.

Kenny believes in the MBA student experience and its ability to be transformative for someone. Community is an integral part of Kenny’s experience. He works to make the halls of Wharton seem smaller and actively promotes the idea that everyone has a place at this school. His involvement in clubs, being an Admissions Fellow and Student Life Fellow certainly adds a richness to the community that cannot be replaced.

Certainly, there are many ways to endorse Kenny Osakwe, but honestly, through his meaningful way of interacting with his peers, I believe this aspect of his skill set has the capability of changing the world. Gandhi said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” He doesn’t know this, but this is the path Kenny walks every day. On that sentiment alone, I wholeheartedly recommend Kenechukwe (Kenny) Osakwe as one of this year’s Poets & Quants, Best and Brightest MBAs.”

Eddie D. Banks-Crosson
Director, MBA Student Life


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